Cymric Island had long since disappeared over the horizon as the Balikirev and its accompanying sister ships set sail on the open sea. Even the tall plume of smoke emanating from the top of Mt. Dragon Li could no longer be seen. The aircraft on deck had been secured, and the crew had returned to their duties.
Felina sighed as the sun finally disappeared on the watery horizon over the choppy waves. She was leaning on the guardrail of an overlook on the ship’s conning tower.
Turmoil’s forces had successfully retrieved the gold. All of it was still loaded aboard the LVS trucks parked on the LCAC hovercraft, safely docked in the Balikirev’s well deck under heavily armed guard.
Dark Kat had been treated by Turmoil’s medics. He was recovering in the ship’s brig, under equally heavy guard, though Felina suspected he was in no condition to attempt any kind of escape.
Felina hadn’t spoken to T-Bone since he’d walked away from the half-destroyed hangar after seeing the gold, though she had caught glimpses of him speaking to Turmoil in the ensuing day. What they discussed, Felina didn’t know. Judging by his body language, it was a topic he seemed uncomfortable with.
Felina had considered approaching him, to find out what he thought about all of this. But, she didn’t.
What business is it of mine, anyway?
Felina felt she had enough on her mind without having to delve into his problems, most importantly being what she’d do once the ship arrived in Megakat City. As usual, Turmoil hadn’t provided a whole lot of details, but it sounded like she planned to roll right up main street and deliver Dark Kat and the gold at City Hall’s doorstep. It’d definitely fit Turmoil’s style if that was the case.
Footsteps clacked on the deck plating of the overlook, and Felina turned to see Lt. Durov approaching.
“Miss Feral,” she began. “The Commander would like to see you in fifteen minutes.”
“Well, my schedule’s open,” Felina remarked, not having much to do ever since they’d captured the island.
“She’ll be expecting you in her cabin,” the lieutenant said, and turned away.
“Hey,” Felina said. “How’d you get mixed up in all of this?”
Lt. Durov stopped, and turned back around.
“In my country, after the government fell, my family was killed during the ensuing civil war,” Lt. Durov said.
“I’m sorry,” Felina said sincerely.
“One of the factions, in order to get money to finance their war, decided it’d be a good idea to sell orphans into slavery,” the lieutenant continued. “I was 14 when I was taken.”
Felina frowned, remembering her biggest problem at 14 was not getting picked for shortstop on her softball team.
“I spent several months in a cell with others like cattle,” Lt. Durov said. “Everyday, one of us would be picked from the group, and put out to auction, and we’d never see them again.”
“One day it was my turn, and I stood up on a podium, like a piece of meat, and several in the crowd started shouting out how much gold they’d pay,” Lt. Durov said. “The man who ran everything, they called him El Capitan. He led the faction, and he also conducted the auction, collecting the gold personally.”
“I never found out what my winning bid was,” Lt. Durov said, and for the first time Felina saw her show emotion on a face that had thus far been stoic. She smiled.
“I never found out, because the auction was interrupted,” Lt. Durov said. “Women soldiers dropped down from the ceiling, firing guns and taking the faction and their prospective customers by surprise. I closed my eyes, dropped to my knees and covered my ears in terror.”
“It was over in seconds, but it seemed to last much longer,” Lt. Durov said. “I felt hands on my shoulders, and I opened my eyes to look up and it was her. The Commander.”
“She said that I didn’t have to be a slave, and could choose a new path,” Lt. Durov said. “That if I wanted, I could have a home among others like myself. To have a new family.”
“Did El Capitan get caught in the crossfire?” Felina asked.
“No,” Lt. Durov said. “He was unscathed as his men were cut down around him. I suppose in hindsight that was deliberate.”
“What happened to him?” Felina asked.
“Commander Turmoil explained to him that she was hired by one of the rival factions to eliminate the others. She said that normally she did not take assignments for the low amount she was being paid, but she’d make an exception when she learned they were selling children,” Lt. Durov said. “But, she said she wanted to give El Capitan a fighting chance to show that he was not just rodilsya cherez jopu.”
Felina wasn’t sure what that phrase was, but judging by the context, it didn’t sound like a compliment.
“So, she asked Captain Elizaveta for her sidearm, and she tossed it to El Capitan,” Lt Durov said. “El Capitan looked surprised, and hesitantly picked up the handgun at his feet.”
“Commander Turmoil said that if he could draw on her successfully, he’d be free to leave,” Lt. Durov said.
“Did he?” Felina asked.
“Did he draw? Yes,” she replied. “Was he successful? The 9mm hole that appeared in his chest before he could finish taking aim should answer that question.”
Felina imagined that scene, clearly seeing Turmoil drawing that P38 of hers and pulling the trigger without hesitation. Had Felina not already witnessed what Turmoil had done, she’d have thought that Lt. Durov was exaggerating in her story.
“So, to answer your question, that is how I got mixed up in all of this,” Lt. Durov said, her face returning to its stoic expression.
“Is that how all of you wind up here?” Felina asked.
“Some of us come from that kind of background,” Lt. Durov said. “Others have had far more troubling pasts, and still others…”
Lt. Durov’s eyes met Felina’s.
“Well, let’s just say I trust the Commander’s judgement wholeheartedly,” Lt. Durov said.
Normally Felina would’ve been offended at that kind of snub, but given the context, she couldn’t help but somewhat agree with Lt. Durov’s quiet appraisal.
“Yeah, I guess I don’t really fit in around here,” Felina said.
“You could fit in here very well,” Lt. Durov said. “But, if I may say, you would need to…how do they say? Get above yourself?”
“Get over yourself,” Felina said. “Wrong preposition.”
“Yes, that,” Lt. Durov said.
“Yeah, you might have a point,” Felina said with a sigh as another thought came to mind. “Does everyone Turmoil asks to join stick around?”
“Usually,” Lt. Durov said. “She is very persuasive.”
“What happens when someone doesn’t want to?” Felina asked.
“Then they may go after their duties have been fulfilled,” Lt. Durov said.
“Two-weeks notice, I take it?” Felina asked.
The lieutenant shrugged.
“Something like that,” Lt. Durov said. “We are a family here. Would you make a member of your family walk the plank if they wanted to do something else?”
“Well, maybe not literally, but sometimes it seems like that,” Felina remarked.
“Then maybe you need a new family,” Lt. Durov said as she turned away once more, heading back to her post.
Felina walked through the narrow corridor of the ship, keeping her attention on her feet, trying hard not to look along the hallway that dipped up and down. The rocking of the boat was hardly noticeable above deck, but below, it seemed overemphasized, and she didn’t want to get seasick. Arriving at her destination, she knocked on the cabin door.
“Enter,” the voice of Turmoil said.
Felina opened it and stepped inside to find Turmoil and T-Bone within.
Or, maybe it’s back to Chance now.
He was sitting on the corner of the made bed, not wearing his mask. He was leaning forward, his arms rested on his knees, fingers clasped, apparently deeply in thought before Felina had interrupted. He looked up, and seeing who it was, stood up.
“I should go and check on Dark Kat,” he said, and then walked past Felina, exiting the room.
Felina watched him leave, wondering what was being discussed just moments prior.
Turmoil was standing in the middle of the room, once again wearing her more formal looking deep magenta uniform, though her cap and cape were hanging nearby from ornate matching hooks on the wall of the cabin.
“Lt. Durov said you wanted to see me,” Felina said.
“Yes,” Turmoil said. “Please, have a seat.”
The table the trio had dined together at the previous evening was still there, though it lacked the mealtime presentation. Instead, a bishop-style crystal decanter filled with a brown liquid and two empty rounded whiskey glasses rested atop the table.
“Drink?” Turmoil asked as she lifted the decanter and poured the contents into a glass.
“Sure,” Felina said, and the glass was slid across the table to her.
Turmoil poured one for herself and took a seat opposite.
Felina lifted the glass to her mouth, smelling the subtle odor she’d heard some describe as a mix between Band-Aids and Sharpie.
Felina took a swig of the drink, feeling the all-too familiar warming sensation.
“So,” Turmoil began after she’d finished raising her glass to her lips, “when were you planning on shooting me?”
Felina’s eyes went wide for a moment, caught off guard by the question. She had returned the AK-74 she’d been issued back to the armorer, but had kept the Glock 36. It was still on her person, in the small of her back.
“You shouldn’t look so surprised,” Turmoil said. “There’s very little I don’t know about you.”
“That so?” Felina asked as she set her glass down on the table. “Why the interest?”
“I consider myself an excellent judge of potential,” Turmoil said, and pointed a finger at her. “And you, Miss Feral, are in the running for first place.”
“Didn’t realize it was a contest,” Felina remarked.
“Oh, but it is,” Turmoil said. “We’re all competing at one level or another.”
“Who are you competing with, then?” Felina asked.
“I am in competition with many things,” Turmoil said. “My past, my former associates, and in many ways, myself.”
“You alluded to that past the other night,” Felina said. “You were a little dodgy about the details.”
“I don’t like to get into too many specifics about my past,” Turmoil said. “What you need to know about me I’ve already said, or you’ve no doubt overheard from my subordinates.”
“Then what about these ‘former associates,’ as you put it?” Felina asked.
“Ah, them,” Turmoil said as she leaned back in her seat. “One of them is recovering in the brig at the moment.”
“Dark Kat?” Felina asked.
“Over the years we’ve had occasions to work together for various reasons,” Turmoil said. “Sometimes he would hire us to carry out tasks in countries you’ve never heard of. Other times we would work together as partners to accomplish some other goal.”
“So, you’re friends with a mad man who’s tried more than once to destroy Megakat City, not to mention kill those closest to me?” Felina asked.
Turmoil raised her index finger in a halting motion.
“No, not friends,” Turmoil said. “Like so many others, Dark Kat was a means to an end. I don’t particularly like him, nor do I hate him. But, I do respect him.”
“You have a funny way of showing it,” Felina said.
“How do you think it is that I know everything that I know?” Turmoil asked. “You don’t gain power or influence by sitting idly in your own little world. You have to go out and interact, especially with those you don’t like.”
“I’ve known about Dark Kat’s gold reserves for over a decade. I’m responsible for at least one fourth of those acquisitions, in fact. I’ve known about his base of operations at Cymric Island even longer, because I’m the one who told him about it. There was always an understanding between us, and I honored that this morning.”
“By cutting off his hand?” Felina asked.
“I gave him the chance to honorably take it back,” Turmoil said. “It is a tradition few appreciate in this day and age.”
“Yeah, because it’s insane,” Felina blurted out.
“You do not hesitate to speak your mind,” Turmoil said. “I like that.”
Turmoil poured some more of the Scotch into Felina’s glass and into her own.
Felina looked at the brown liquid, her finger tips still wrapped around the glass, but she did not take another sip.
“What you call insane, I call being bold,” Turmoil said. “It is boldness that gains respect. Boldness that gains attention. Boldness that can achieve things others think impossible. Boldness that establishes a reputation. A reputation that can open the right doors, and work to dissuade those who’d work against me.”
“I’m not sure I can fully appreciate your methods,” Felina said.
“That’s fine,” Turmoil said. “But you cannot deny my results.”
Felina pondered Turmoil’s words for a moment, and a thought came to mind.
“Did you know Captain Ritz?” Felina asked.
“Ah yes, the retired Enforcer CAG,” Turmoil said, and took a sip of her drink. “He was quite useful.”
“So, he wasn’t just working for Dark Kat…” Felina said aloud.
“Ritz shared his knowledge with those who he thought could help him further his agenda,” Turmoil said. “For a time, I was one of those. In fact, it’s how I came to learn about you.”
When Dark Kat had kidnapped Felina last year, he’d shown her an entire dossier of confidential, internal files. Ritz had been the one who had provided them, and Felina would not be surprised if he’d done the same thing for Turmoil.
“So that’s what you meant about being able to navigate the Enforcer’s secrets,” Felina surmised. “Was he the only traitor?”
“No,” Turmoil said. “There are many who’ve grown dissatisfied with things, and who are eager to lend me their ears.”
“How many?” Felina asked.
“Oh, I don’t know, a few dozen perhaps?” Turmoil said with disinterest. “I’d thought you would sympathize. You’ve seen how ineffective the leadership is in Megakat City.”
“Not so ineffective that I’d betray…” Felina began, and then stopped herself.
Turmoil gave her a knowing look.
“But haven’t you?” Turmoil asked. “You’re sitting at the table and sharing a drink with me right now. Earlier today, you could’ve intervened in my duel, but you didn’t. You could’ve ignored my invitation, but you didn’t. You could’ve listened to your dispatcher and waited for backup at the office complex, but you didn’t.”
Felina was silent as she let those words sink in.
“But, perhaps ‘betray,’ as you said, doesn’t really describe your choices accurately,” Turmoil said. “Like myself and everyone else I have under my command, you’ve risen above the limitations others have tried to force upon you.”
Felina remembered the unwanted advice she’d gotten days earlier.
“I never thought I’d be the one to say this, but yeah, you do have to play by certain rules,” Chance Furlong had said.
“Some of those limitations you like to rise above, those wouldn’t happen to include laws against stealing and murdering, would they?” Felina asked.
“Depending on the circumstances, those can be very subjective concepts,” Turmoil said dismissively, and took another sip.
“I’m not sure I want to find myself in those circumstances,” Felina said with a sigh, and she slid the still filled glass away from herself.
Both were quiet for a few minutes, and Felina broke the silence, deciding to be direct.
“What is it you want from me?” Felina asked.
Turmoil set her glass down.
“I want you to be a part of what I’m offering Megakat City,” Turmoil said. “In the morning, we will arrive at Megakat Bay, and then I will march up Main Street and present my offerings to the city.”
“And?” Felina asked.
“And I will make my case,” Turmoil said. “Which if I do successfully, I anticipate you having a renewed career with the Enforcers.”
“You’re gonna have to make a pretty convincing case,” Felina muttered.
“I intend to,” Turmoil said.
Felina wondered just how Turmoil expected the Enforcers to react once she arrived, and pondered asking the question, but decided against it.
I probably wouldn’t get a straight answer anyway.
Felina was concerned with how it’d look when others saw her alongside Turmoil, and what kind of questions would result.
Gee, mister internal affairs agent, I was just tagging along for a dangerous and probably illegal military expedition to apprehend the most wanted criminal in history, working in an unapproved undercover capacity while under a dicey medical suspension. I’m sure you won’t see fit to have me fired or thrown in jail, right?
Felina got the feeling she didn’t have to voice that out loud. From the look on Turmoil’s face, Felina could tell she knew. Probably had from the very beginning.
I’ve got no choice but to just follow along.
“Get some rest,” Turmoil said as she stood up. “Tomorrow is going to be a busy day.”
“Razor, come in,” Felina spoke into her communicator, only to hear empty static in return.
She’d been trying to contact the other SWAT Kat from the privacy of the bunk she’d been assigned for the past five minutes, and he hadn’t picked up. It was just before midnight.
Maybe he’s asleep.
Felina sighed and set the communicator down, and laid down back-first on her bunk, her arms crossed behind her head. She stared up at the low ceiling, the plating painted a dull grey.
She had been going over her discussion with Turmoil in her mind over and over. Too many things didn’t add up, which made her feel uneasy.
“Though, all things considered, I suppose one could do worse,” Felina thought aloud, referring to her surroundings.
At that, her cabin door thudded with several distinct raps. She frowned and sat up. Someone was knocking. She withdrew her Glock 36 as she stood up and approached the door, keeping it pointed low and at the ready in her right hand. With her left she grabbed the door’s handle, and cautiously cracked it open, and saw who it was.
“Got a minute?” Chance Furlong asked from the other side.
“Yeah,” Felina said, and opened the door all the way.
Chance stepped inside, closing the door behind himself. Felina walked back over to her bunk and took a cross-legged seat, setting the pistol down beside herself. Chance took the room’s only chair from a very compact desk and spun it around to sit in it backwards, leaning his forearms on the rail.
“So, haven’t seen much of you since we found all that gold,” Felina said.
“Yeah,” Chance replied. “Been doing a lot of thinking.”
“Same here,” Felina replied.
“I’m sure you’ve probably guessed by now that Turmoil wants me to stick around,” Chance said. “Gave me another invitation to work at her side.”
“Sounds like it could be a real step up,” Felina said.
“I guess it would, in a lot of ways,” Chance said. “But I don’t think I could do it.”
“Certainly it’s not the law that’s got you concerned,” Felina said.
“No. Ever since this…” Chance began as he held up his mask. “The whole notion of legal versus illegal has kind of blurred a bit.”
“Then what?” Felina asked. “You don’t like her anymore?”
“No, that’s not it,” Chance said with a laugh. “There’s plenty to like about her. That’s what makes this difficult.”
Admittedly Felina didn’t know Chance all that well, and still really hadn’t fully come to terms with thinking of him as T-Bone and vice versa. His hesitation and indecisiveness seemed to go so contrary to the larger-than-life super hero the media portrayed both SWAT Kats as.
Both SWAT Kats…
“It’s Jake, isn’t it?” Felina asked. “You’re afraid you’ll hurt him if you pursue this tryst of yours?”
He stared off, not looking at her, apparently considering the words, and was quiet for several minutes.
“I’m the one that got us kicked off the Enforcers,” Chance said.
“Jake was just along for the ride,” Chance continued. “I’m the one who disobeyed orders. I’m the one who got in the Commander’s face. He didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“But, he stood by me anyway,” Chance said. “Jake could’ve made an appeal, given testimony against me, kept his job. But, he didn’t. And his life is ruined because of it.”
“He was in the Enforcers so he could pay for college,” Chance continued. “And to get real-life exposure to aerospace engineering applications. Once his stint was over with, he’d have been able to walk right into Puma Dyne, Kat Co. or Lockheed. If it wasn’t for me he’d probably be a millionaire by now.”
The disappointment in his voice was palpable.
“When Turmoil came back and stole the Turbokat, it was because of me again. The consequences of my actions once again cost not just me, but him, too. While there are worse second prizes to have, that’s really what the SWAT Kats have been, when you get right down to it. The silver medal. An alternative to what both of us were supposed to be. Now, we’re just a couple of junkmen who hide behind masks to do occasional good. And, with the way thing’s have been getting worse in the city, and your uncle’s constant lambasting, I’m beginning to wonder if what we’ve done really is good or not.”
“That’s why I had to do this alone,” Chance said. “I couldn’t let Jake get wrapped up any deeper in my mistakes. He’s already done enough.”
“So, that’s why,” Felina mused aloud.
“That’s why what?” Chance asked.
“Why you didn’t want me involved,” Felina said. “You’re afraid you’d feel responsible for getting another Enforcer kicked off the force.”
Chance sighed and looked down.
“Not just another Enforcer,” Chance said.
“That’s so sweet of you,” Felina said dryly as she crossed her arms.
He looked up, his expression a little irritated.
“You’ve done a really good job making this all about you,” Felina said, and she got up from her seat on the bunk, standing up. “But I’m here for reasons of my own.”
He frowned and stood up as well.
“And what reasons are those?” he asked. “To have someone smugly preen over you? Have your unacknowledged accomplishments get complimented? Get patted on the back and told how awesome you are?”
Felina’s eyes narrowed.
“You know, the more I get to know you, the more I really hate your guts,” Felina said as she stepped up to him, once again getting in his face. He didn’t back down.
“I’ve been feeling the same way about you, lately,” Chance replied.
She could feel the breath of his words on her face, feeling frustrated that he made her feel frustrated. Or was it something else? Something unspoken, beneath the surface of the words. Some kind of primal interaction that desired to occur, but went against her better judgement. If that were the case, it was even more frustrating, because that would just be weakness. A weakness she couldn’t tolerate, especially in lieu of their current temperaments.
Maybe in another time or place. But not here, not now, and probably not ever.
“Get out,” Felina said plainly, and pointed at the door.
“Gladly,” Chance replied, and exited the cabin.
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